The Leukaemia Foundation has welcomed news that a new novel combination therapy option will now be available to more myeloma patients through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Federal Minister for Health, The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, has announced an expansion to the listing of lenalidomide (Revlimid®) on the PBS Highly Specialised Drugs Program to allow use in combination with bortezomib (Velcade®) and dexamethasone for newly-diagnosed multiple myeloma patients who are ineligible for primary stem cell transplant.
Minister Hunt said it is estimated up to 2,300 patients may benefit from this listing each year. Lenalidomide is an oral immune-modulating medicine that helps a patient’s immune system recognise and destroy myeloma cells, as well as preventing new cancer growth.
This announcement follows news on April 1 that the medicine would be made available through the PBS to newly-diagnosed myeloma patients receiving maintenance treatment who have already undergone an autologous stem cell transplant.
Leukaemia Foundation General Manager of People Living with Blood Cancer Kathryn Huntley said the Leukaemia Foundation had advocated for both PBS listings, with lenalidomide being one of six myeloma medicines the organisation has actively advocated for increased access to in the past year.
Ms Huntley said she understood the combination is the first novel triplet therapy reimbursed in Australia for these patients, and a highly effective treatment option with generally manageable side effects.
“The Leukaemia Foundation is grateful this triplet combination therapy will now be a more readily accessible and affordable treatment option for Australians living with multiple myeloma who need it most,” she said.
“There is a high unmet need for more treatment options for people living with myeloma and the Leukaemia Foundation’s priority is to ensure that all Australians living with blood cancer have access to the best therapies and treatments available.
“New, improved and more timely treatment options like these that can reduce toxicity and side effects, improve survival outcomes and a patient’s quality of life are always welcome.
“This announcement is another step in improving the lives of myeloma patients, and we look forward to seeing further progress to improve survival and quality of life for all Australians living with this blood cancer into the future.”
Around 18,000 Australians are currently living with myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma. It is a complex and relatively rare blood cancer affecting the body’s plasma cells, which produce antibodies. Myeloma develops when plasma cells undergo a cancerous change and multiply at an increasing rate, taking over the bone marrow. Patients experience weaker bones which are more prone to breaking, as well as bone pain, kidney damage, frequent infections, anaemia and increased bleeding and bruising.
Currently, 2,074 people are diagnosed with myeloma each year, however it is expected 4,952 people will be diagnosed with this type of blood cancer in 2035. Sadly, 1,098 Australians already lose their life to myeloma each year, and this figure is projected to increase to 3,037 people by 2035.1
“While treatment options and survival rates for some blood cancers are improving, the sad reality is that myeloma is not curable, and the impact of a diagnosis of myeloma on peoples’ lives and the ongoing affect to their health remains severe,” Ms Huntley said.
“That is why the Leukaemia Foundation is committed to empowering Australians living with myeloma with access to the best information, support, treatment and care so they can manage its impacts and live well with their blood cancer.”
Late last year the Leukaemia Foundation released the State of the Nation: Blood Cancer in Australia report, which led to Minister Hunt supporting the Leukaemia Foundation to establish a Blood Cancer Taskforce.
The Taskforce is now working towards delivering Australia’s first National Strategic Action Plan for Blood Cancer, bolstering the Leukaemia Foundation’s goal to see zero lives lost from blood cancer by 2035.
The Blood Cancer Taskforce unites Australia’s leading haematologists, researchers, patients and members of the blood cancer ecosystem for the first time to work with the Leukaemia Foundation to develop the National Action Plan, which will provide a blueprint to tackle key issues facing people affected by blood cancer, today and into the future.
Ms Huntley said the formation of the Taskforce and development of the National Action Plan together mark a major milestone for the blood cancer community and will set the national agenda around blood cancer for many years to come. The National Action Plan is due for release later this year.
The Leukaemia Foundation provides free practical, emotional and educational support to Australians diagnosed with a blood cancer including myeloma.
The Leukaemia Foundation produces a series of disease specific newsletters including Myeloma News, and invites all Australians living with the disease to subscribe to ongoing information here.
Image: Myeloma cells (Image Credit: Myeloma Australia).